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Not A Departure: The Genesis Of Darkspore
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Not A Departure: The Genesis Of Darkspore


September 6, 2010 Article Start Previous Page 2 of 3 Next
 

This is the first major game Maxis has made without Will Wright in the studio. Do you think there is a correlation there with this gameplay departure?

MP: I wouldn't say it's related. In fact, I think a lot of the innovations that Will did back in Spore are how we ended up with this technology to begin with. So, there's definitely a lot of Will in there when you see the editor technology.

Yeah, it is the first game we're doing since Will has left the studio. But Maxis has a personality. It's a studio that's been around for more than 20 years. You build a culture, and that culture sticks.

If you come over to Maxis today and visit Maxis from 20 years ago, you'll see the same vibe when you come into the office. It's a very brainy studio. There's a lot of core gamers there -- a lot of PC gamers there -- and a lot of nerds. We wear a lot of flip-flops and shorts at Maxis [laughs].

Do you think you guys have to sell your image now? For a long time, Maxis has been "the Will Wright studio," at least to outsiders. Does that make you want to say, "Hey, this is what Maxis is. This is what we are."?

MP: I think what we really need to do and what we're doing as a studio is to focus on making great games. I mean, at the end of the day, whether Will is around or not, we need to make great games.

For example, the Sims franchise is over [at EA Redwood Shores]. It hasn't been in the Maxis studio for some time, and the Sims games are just getting better and better and better. I think, for us, we've got to take where Will has taken Maxis and go from there, and just continue to make great products.

We'll make products for a variety of types, and I think to make Darkspore is a chance for us to come out and say, "Maxis is capable of doing a lot of things. We have a lot of people on the team that have a very diverse background, and we can use that to our advantage to make great games."

Do you feel like there's a resurgence of this PC top-down action RPG genre these days? Blizzard announced Diablo III a couple years ago, there was Torchlight last year, Dungeon Siege III, the Titan Quest guys are making a new game…

MP: Right. And Torchlight was awesome. Absolutely. And I think a lot of it has to do with the PC being so pervasive. Even laptops now have reasonable graphic chips now that allow folks to play a lot of games. Laptops have dominated the PC market recently. So, you're getting a lot of players playing the games.

But also, everybody's connected online. This is a really new thing for us. Everybody connects through broadband, and that lets us do a lot of great things on PCs that we haven't been able to do before. I think having co-op gameplay being a strong focus for an action RPG style of game is an opportunity we can bring to that market now.

I don't think PC games ever went away, but they migrated online, and I think now everybody is starting to realize that. I think with what we're doing here and what Blizzard is doing, the PC market is coming back strong.

The fundamentals of the Diablo-esque PC action RPG are very straightforward, but it's a notoriously difficult genre to get just right. So much of it is about that perfect feel and atmosphere. Has that been challenging to nail down?

MP: Yeah. I think for a game like this with the depth of collection, customization, and upgrades, tuning is absolutely critical. What we're doing on the project right now is actually starting to tune. We've actually been tuning since we started.

We built a system that lets us create a lot of different types of loot and get it in a game and prototype it right now. The team already has playtests multiple times a week. We do telemetry and we get feedback from everybody who's playing the game to make sure that the game is very well balanced.

We're absolutely going to be continuing this throughout the development process and into a public beta process as well. We'll get a lot of people to come in and play the game and really help us make sure that we've got it tuned exactly where it needs to be.

This kind of game is very UI-dependent. Do you think Maxis' background in simulation and management games helps out there?

MP: It really does. But, you know, it's not only a strength in UI, but a strength in managing lots of data. When you're tuning a simulation game like SimCity, there are just tons and tons of formulas and data that have to be perfectly in sync. We're using a lot of that experience here to give ourselves the ability to tune the mountains of data that we're going to have and the customization.

On the UI experience, we've innovated a lot of this in years past with tear-out tool panels and things like that. And here, the UI experience has to be built for this game. A lot of what you've seen in demos so far is placeholder UI. That's going to get overhauled. We want players to really be able to sit down, pick up, and play this game without having to go through a long learning curve of understanding how it works.


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